There are two secret ingredients in the so-called drug problem as necessary as poppy plants are for heroin or cruddy glassware is to making meth.
They are in the residue of every lab the police shut down. They are in every urine test but never test positive. They're in the record and on the face of every angry young man in handcuffs before a judge and in the eyes of his mother sitting in the back row of the court room. They motivate every user and every effort trying to stop them.
They are fear and shame. Together they form a compound as potent as any of life-ruining chemicals that are the center of the lives featured in today's edition of the Deseret News.
I see them just off-stage of our life on drugs they're behind the scenes in both a meth house and courthouse. They make a pain drug users are trying to deaden and make society want to add greater doses of brutality to the judicial system, all in hopes of making people feel better.
The nasty little compound is invisible but as real as the changing colors in a cop's drug potency field test kit. They're not in the autopsy report of a 19-year-old boy found in his bedroom of a million-dollar house in Layton, fully dressed on his back holding a half-eaten candy bar. But they're in his folks, down to the cell and a shadow over every thought and action of his mother from now on.
There are traces on all the money now in the trillions and in the ink flashed across the brochures and the billboards of the public education campaigns. The shared fear and shame about drugs are in the bricks and mortar of the overflowing jails and the new ones being built that will overflow too.
Not to mention fear and shame today, especially in light of this story, would be to leave out the most important contributing factors of of our life on drugs. They are with the user when they start and still there when they stop. They are in court every day 80 percent of those in the Salt Lake County Jail on any given day are people busted for drug possession, most often non-violent.
They are hardly ever talked about, but they are the vector of what is actually a public health epidemic that has been turned over to a criminal justice system that neither wants or can afford them.
Fear and shame, not drugs, turn kids who make mistakes and probably need treatment as much as punishment into inmates who will keep going back to jail. They'll frustrate lenient judges and kind family members with acts of harm because they are ashamed of being someone they believe their families shouldn't care about and the world is much better without.
Fear and shame aren't a line item in the governor's budget. Nor are they mentioned in any of the 47 bills that state lawmakers have passed since 1992 in an attempt to do something about methamphetamine, a powder that looks as benign as salt but scares them and their constituents to death. Meth, Utah's du jour illegal drug, is very potent. Its "magic" comes from the power of users who get their brains beaten by it to the courts and do-gooders who act as if it is a radioactive isotope. It makes users feel invincible and its hangover makes the problem or shame, or "pain body," as therapists call it these days, weigh heavier. Other people will mix up unlikely potions of fermented grain, dried leaves and seeds to feel better, even for a moment.
Some like alcohol, legal and in fancy labels, and we're OK with that to a point. The other substances, prescription or not, are "controlled," which means they are outlawed in most nonmedically supervised situations. Society in turn has grown a "pain body" so big that no one dares have a public discussion about what's really behind the drug problem.
Seen up close the past year, the drug problem is often an individual attempting to fix shame, depression or fear with a substance that just creates a bigger version of shame, depression or fear. And from all accounts, the problem is going probably already has gone global.
We keep trying to feel better by putting those who use drugs out with the trash. The users recognize this, and are reminded of it, every time they get arrested and then put to the curb. They know they're breaking the law, and to some it's just part of the thrill. They also eventually realize that getting off drugs does not help them any more than using drugs did. In fact, many say life actually gets a lot worse after they quit. They have a record that makes restoring their confidence such as a job or housing difficult at best. After 25 years of a drug war, the real enemy is still with us, going away and then returning Utah's valleys like haze on a spring day. The way things have gone, we've been as effective at getting rid of drugs as we would be trying to clear the air over Salt Lake City with a pitchfork. I don't mean to bait fear, as every drug user interviewed for today's story accused the news media of doing every day, but no amount of money, no piece of legislation, no matter how insightful, will rid the world of the two main ingredients that seem to be part of the human condition since Eve told Adam about the fruit.
So what? Nothing of substance is in the immediate future, although efforts to push a more honest discussion and a less expensive way of dealing with the issue toward the middle of the spectrum.
One off-and-on user says she knows what wrong and what it will take: "It's something wrong with our spirit everybody. And some feel better by using drugs and some feel better crusading against them and feeling above it all with bigger houses and nicer cars.
E-mail: [email protected]